Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Happy Birthday to Me

Wow, its amazing how a weekend can really take it out of you.  We had our performance of "Noises Off" this past Friday and Saturday and I have never been more exhausted in my life.  Honestly, I am completely pooped...which is kinda amazing considering I've been getting plenty of sleep since Sunday.  I just can't seem to catch up.  So instead of feeling happy and energized for my birthday, I'm feeling run down and sleepy.  I've actually nearly fallen asleep several times today when I had to sit in absolute quiet (did I mention we're also taking the OGT this week and I have two hours in the morning where I sit and basically do nothing while I watch sophomores take standardized tests...that was horrible today, because I kept nodding off).  I'm also feeling a little under the weather because spring has sprung and my sinuses and allergies are acting up...oh and there was a time change this weekend too.  So all of these factors have now converged, making my birthday a rather sleepy one...and I'm supposed to drive to Charleston tonight to have dinner with mom later.  I'm sure by the time school lets out I'll be fine, but right now it doesn't feel like a very happy birthday.  So in honor of birthdays that don't go right, I've decided to talk about a nasty little 80s slasher that came along just in time to capitalize on the 'day-specific or 'holliday' horror craze.  So join me as I wish myself Happy Birthday to Me.

Virginia "Ginny" Wainwright is a pretty and popular high school senior at Crawford Academy. She is one of her school's "Top Ten": an elite clique which comprises the richest, most popular and most snobbish teens at the Academy. The Top Ten meet every night at the Silent Woman Tavern, a pub near Crawford's campus. One night en route to the tavern, Top Ten member Bernadette O'Hara is attacked in her car by a killer whose face cannot be seen. The Top Ten is briefly concerned when Bernadette fails to show up at the Silent Woman but they soon get over it when their argument with another customer results in one of them putting a pet mouse into his beer; mayhem ensues, and the Top Ten flee the scene.  On the way home, the Top Ten see a drawbridge going up and decide to play a game of chicken: all cars in the game must make it across before the bridge is completely raised (to allow the passing of ferries). A protesting Ginny is shoved into a car by fellow Top Ten member Ann Thomerson. Every car jumps the drawbridge save one. As the car goes over the drawbridge Ginny yells "Mother!" and makes it safely across. After the car stops Ginny runs from the vehicle into the darkness home. Ginny shares a handful of lost, repressed memories with her on-call psychiatrist, Dr. David Faraday. She underwent an experimental medical procedure, involving surgery to restore brain tissue, after surviving a harrowing accident at a drawbridge.  As Ginny's 18th birthday approaches and she attempts to get her life back to normal despite suffering from memory blackouts, the remaining Top Ten are killed in increasingly brutal ways.  Soon Ginny begins to wonder what these murders have to do with her and whether or not she is committing them.

Happy Birthday to Me is one of those 80s slashers that attempted to be something better than what the studio wanted it to be and was undermined by it's concept and it's advertising.  The idea of a that a girl could possibly kill her friends due to repressed memories (and she is the protagonist at that) was a lively one and the idea that it would take place as she neared her 18th birthday was enough to make studio salivate and think they had the next Halloween or Friday the 13th.  Unfortunately, advertising the film as "The Six Most Bizarre Murders You Will Ever See" ignored the wonderful psychological thriller aspects of the story, including the "is she or isn't she?" aspect of the tale which became more and more ambiguous as the studio kept trying to keep Ginny as a sympathetic and guiltless protagonist.  Finally, a ridiculous ending was tacked onto it in order to keep Ginny from being guilty and the film found itself lost at the box office when it opened.  People coming to see "The Six Most Bizarre Murders You'll Ever See" were no doubt disappointed by the rather tame and run-of-the-mill murders on display while scene after scene of rich exposition and character development passed by and bored them to tears.  People who would have appreciated the Freudian aspects of the story and the way it focused on developing Ginny stayed away due to the inflammatory tagline...and one of the film's coolest scares was ruined on the poster art.  It was a distribution mess.  In later years, fans would sprout up to support Happy Birthday to Me as a slasher that was before it's time and unfairly treated...and many fans are still clamoring for a version of the film that includes the original ending.  However, I don't think that will ever happen.  As it stands, Happy Birthday to Me is one of those movies that you know could have been great...but was never allowed to be.

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